Research shows that diners make judgments about their food and experience based on who and what they can see inside your kitchen.

Why Open Restaurant Kitchens are Improving the Customer Experience

Customer Service

Open restaurant kitchens provide you with the opportunity to improve the customer dining experience. Here’s what you should know.

It’s no secret that running a restaurant is like putting on a show every single day. The growth in the number of open restaurant kitchens, which allow both chefs and diners to observe each other, certainly aligns with the “restaurant as theater” metaphor. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, “Display kitchens are receiving a warm reception everywhere from fine dining to quick-service restaurants like Domino’s.”

So if chefs and diners have the ability to observe each other, does this change the restaurant experience? According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, the answer is “yes.” The study says that “when customers and cooks both could see one another, satisfaction went up 17.3 percent and service was 13.2 percent faster.” It goes on to explain that transparency between customers and providers seems to really improve service. Here’s what else you should know about this growing trend and how it will affect the service industry.

The Impact on Chefs and Cooks

An empathetic connection between the producer of a product or service and the customer tends to improve the overall experience for both parties. When a chef can look their diners in the eyes, that interaction provides a deeper meaning for the work the chef is doing. When work has more meaning, it also tends to get done with more quality.

As the aforementioned Harvard Business Review article explains, seeing diners can motivate chefs since many cooks enjoy interacting with their customers. This human connection tends to improve the customer experience as well as the cook’s experience, making it a clear win-win for the open-kitchen concept.

The Impact on the Customer Experience

The open-kitchen concept also works to improve the customer experience. The Harvard Business Review article described a study that compared diners who observed their food being prepared with diners who had not. The differences were stark: “In another study we did,” said one researcher, “customers preordered a sandwich and then either waited to pick it up in view of the station where food was prepared, or bypassed the line and picked it up without waiting. The sandwiches weren’t any different, but customers who waited in line rated the service higher.”

In other words, “people who observed the chef thought the service was better despite the line, because they could see the effort being made.” The food itself may have also been prepared better because the staff could see the diners watching and waiting in front of them. So again, creating an empathetic human connection is part of what makes any customer service experience special. The kitchen may not only make food that’s higher quality, but diners will also be more likely to perceive that food as being higher quality.

Your Kitchen’s Image Matters More Than Ever

The research supporting an open kitchen is clear, but your restaurant will also need to put its best foot forward when the kitchen is on display. The image your kitchen and staff create can help shape your restaurant’s reputation. Since your kitchen staff will be engaging with customers, consider investing in uniforms that communicate the professional, customer-centric image you want. You’ll also want to make sure that your employees maintain a clean kitchen throughout service, so that customers peering in aren’t turned off by a messy prep area or dirty floors. Creating a cleaning schedule and providing your staff with the appropriate supplies can help keep floors and surfaces spotless, while boosting your kitchen’s image.

As the research shows, diners make judgments about their food and experience based on who and what they can see inside restaurant kitchens. Because of this, embracing the growing open-kitchen trend is a win-win in terms of motivating your staff to work hard and driving customer satisfaction.

Chuck Leddy
Chuck Leddy

Chuck Leddy is a versatile, fast-learning communications professional with a proven track record as a digital content marketer. Writing for clients like GE, ADP, the National Center for the Middle Market, smartShift (computing), Office Depot, and more, he's published hundreds of articles, features, profiles, and interviews.